Bus takes lessons of history on a roll across Iowa
Northwest Iowa native Marion Jaycox knows what it's like to climb out of the darkness to be greeted with an American flag. And he holds that flag dear after being held as a prisoner of war during the Nazi era in Germany.
Last Thursday, Jaycox celebrated his liberation from a Nazi Germany POW camp. On Friday morning, he had the opportunity to re-live some of the history with his daughter at a traveling bus museum exhibit making its way through the area.
Jaycox entered the service in the Army Specialized Training Program. The then 20-year-old was teaching in Jackson, Minn. when he was called to serve on the front lines in 1944.
In February 1945, Jaycox was captured by German soldiers when he went back for an injured serviceman.
"I was in combat 120 days before being captured, I don't know what was worse," said Jaycox.
After his capture, Jaycox was interrogated by German officers before joining a march to a prison camp. From there, the POWs were hauled in box cars from camp to camp, in efforts to keep the American soldiers from liberating them.
Jaycox remembers eating thin soup and black bread at mealtimes, but starvation wasn't his biggest fear.
"When we slept, there were machine guns lined around us at night," said Jaycox. "We never knew who was going to go."
While at his third camp in three months, Jaycox stayed behind when thousands of POWs were being transported to Moosburg. He said he was ill and stayed at a work camp in Augsburg, Germany.
"It was easier to beg food when there were smaller numbers," said Jaycox, who went from weighing 160 pounds down to 127 pounds during his three-month captivity.
When the danger of front lines approached, Jaycox and others found shelter in an underground bomb shelter.
"We were underground for two or three days, I think," Jaycox said. "When we came up, there was... the American flag."
Once Jaycox returned to the U.S., he gave up his career in teaching.
"I just couldn't see teaching little kids after that," he said. Jaycox moved to Sanborn where he opened a business called J's Restaurant.
"I swore I'd never go hungry again," he said. Jaycox retired in 1986, but his son continues to operate the restaurant.
Last Friday, Jaycox shared the museum experience with his daughter Nancy Puhrman of Lake Park.
"We didn't talk about his POW experience until he was in high school," said Puhrman. "I was going to watch a movie and it opened with lights panning over a POW camp. Dad firmly asked me to turn the movie off, so I did."
A couple days later, Puhrman learned that her father had been a prisoner of war.
In 1965 when Puhrman was enrolling in college, her father had the opportunity to travel to Europe with some of his "foxhole buddies." He said he passed up the chance for several reasons. Many years later in 1992, Jaycox made the trip to Europe to see some of the sights he had seen as a POW.
"Since then, he's been more open and has gotten a flood of memories," said Puhrman.
About the Bus
The bus parked at Amvets in Storm Lake Monday evening, and scheduled to visit the Alta schools this morning, is a traveling exhibit sponsored by Traces, a non-profit educational organization created to gather, preserve and present stories of people from the Midwest and Germany or Austria who encountered each other during World War II. This spring, the bus is making stops throughout Iowa.
Another POW, Lester Knudson traveled to Spirit Lake from his home in Windom to share the traveling museum experience with his daughter and son-in-law from Gilmore City. Knudson donated some items to Traces for use in the exhibit.
"I was in a prison camp for 18 months," said Knudson. "I think this exhibit has helped my family see some of the things I experienced."
Coming out of the Darkness
Like many POWs, Jaycox and Knudson have had a difficult time opening up about their war experiences.
"It's just not something many people are comfortable talking about," said Jaycox. "I knew one man for 30 years before I learned he was a POW and he learned that I was."
In the last decade, Jaycox has become involved in the Iowa Great Lakes POW Association which serves all of northwest Iowa. He was elected vice commander of the organization at its last meeting.
"We've got between 25-30 POWs who attend regularly, plus their wives," said Jaycox.
Any veteran with a similar experience is welcome to join the group, Jaycox says he can be reached at his home in Sanborn at (712) 729-3941.
Jaycox is also a representative for the Veteran's Affairs office in Sioux Falls.
"I'm trying to outreach to other POWs," said Jaycox. "They're really treated great by the VA office. I know there are a lot of veterans out there who don't want to talk about their POW experience and aren't getting any compensation. If I can help set them up with help, I'm more than willing."